Tree hits town hall

Strong winds and heavy rain hit the area late on Wednesday afternoon, as residents braced for possible severe weather while under a tornado watch that covered the entire Delmarva Peninsula until 8 p.m.

About 5 p.m. Wednesday, rotating winds and blackened skies, highlighted by severe lightning, were spotted in the Millville area. The winds — which some witnesses described as tornadic — did major damage to Ocean View Town Hall, with a fallen tree from John West Park narrowly missing the town’s receiver of taxes, B.J. Keen, as she sat in her office at the rear of the building.

“It happened really fast,” said an uninjured Keen on Wednesday night. “I was in my office, and I looked outside and the wind was really whipping around. The next thing I knew, stuff was falling in around me.

“There was real loud sound,” she said, “and I looked up and there was a tree above me. I was trying to cover my head, and the ceiling fixture was swinging.”

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said the storm damage had closed Betts Avenue after a fallen tree had detached the electrical meter from a home on the street. Large limbs and whole trees were felled throughout the area. In the parking lot of the Millville Town Center, the winds hurled shopping carts across the parking lot and moved the shopping center’s cart corrals. A free-standing sign at Mike & Paul’s Auto Repair on Route 26 was also damaged.

Skies in the area had begun to clear by 6 p.m., however. The tornado watch, initially issued at 3:04 p.m. and extending to 8 p.m., covered the coastal area from Chincoteague, Va., to the Delaware Bay and beyond, and extended 20 nautical miles off the coast.

The front edge of the storm front quickly passed through the area, dropping winds to just 4 mph less than an hour later, with a peak gust recorded of some 46 mph in Fenwick Island. About .6 inches of rain fell on the area on Wednesday, most of it in the brief period around the storm.

A special marine warning was also issued by weather officials on Wednesday afternoon. A small-craft advisory ran until 7 p.m. Boaters were told to seek safe harbor immediately and warned of the potential for waterspouts.